THE United States moved out of the Republican Palace in Baghdad on Monday and in to its new Embassy nearby in the heavily protected Green Zone. The Palace, until 2003 Saddam Hussein's principal official residence and office, overlooking the River Tigris, will now be occupied by the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The change-over is deeply symbolic, coinciding with the end of the United Nations authority for the US presence in Iraq and its replacement with a new agreement between the countries under which American forces will gradually scale-down their activities until they leave altogether in 2011. The newly-constructed US Embassy covers more than 100 acres and houses four thousand staff - the biggest US diplomatic representation in the world.
Sceptics who have long predicted that the US will never really cease to exert its influence on Iraq are asking why so many people are needed when relations with key countries such as China and Russia can be managed with much smaller numbers. The answer may be a long time coming. Meanwhile, the crucial issue is how well Iraqi security forces will manage to keep the peace in Baghdad and all Iraq's streets as the American presence noticeably lowers its profile. Attacks on Monday as the Green Zone change-over ceremonies were taking place led to the killing of fifty people in central Baghdad.
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